I am very grateful to be able to commemorate the famous letter from my forebear, Arthur James Balfour, to Lord Walter Rothschild.
Debate and controversy continue to surround the genesis and the wording of the Balfour Declaration but for myself I believe it was the end result that counts.
It was written in the wake of the pogroms, particularly from Tsarist Russia, whereby hundreds of thousands of Jews found themselves in strange lands where their customs and language were far less compatible in the countries they found than in today’s accepting interlinked, multi-cultural world.
For 30 years I have been lucky enough to travel the globe and almost everywhere I meet members of the diaspora. Not because I seek them out but because, from arriving destitute, be it in Canada or Argentina, their descendants have remarkable stories to tell leading up to successful corporations, scientific and cultural achievements wherever they ended up.
For those Jewish families that came through such oppression, deprivation and migration, I salute and admire them. In 1917, however, nobody foresaw the horrors that were to befall European Jewry 20 years later.
Arthur himself died in 1930 but from “up there” he must be looking down with his Cabinet colleagues of the day to see the wholesale justification of His Majesty’s Government’s initiative. The Declaration surely has to be seen as one of the most successful humanitarian actions in history, before or since.
It provided an often-persecuted race access to its historic homeland, a combination which every Christian English schoolboy, such as I was, heard about at every church service through the Old Testament and the Psalms. I still do.
I hope it is not too much to claim that the Declaration has gone a long way to fulfilling Abraham’s Covenant.
Of course, the old Palestine of the Mandate numbered circa 700,000 people — it’s now 12 million. This population explosion on both sides of the religious divide in a tiny area has inevitably led to conflict, but we must all use our efforts to bring about equal rights as envisaged by that central tenet of the Declaration and which was the quid pro quo of supporting a Jewish homeland.
Whatever the current rights and wrongs of the situation, I and my family are very proud to carry Arthur’s mantle in this centenary year.
Roderick Balfour is the 5th Earl of Balfour